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Clicking their heels
Selling fashion brands online presents its own challenges. Can regional retailers find a formula that fits?
May 2, 2011 10:39 by Sidra Tariq
Consumers are quick to buy electronics, books, and games online. But when it comes to fashion or luxury items, they often think twice.
When you go shopping, you wear the shirt to see whether it fits you. You try on the shoes to see if you are comfortable walking in them. And you put on the shades to see whether or not they suit your face. This touch-and-feel aspect of shopping is absent in the online process, and discrepancies in sizing can become an issue. But fashion brands are being sold online, and there are people – in the region and abroad – buying them.
Narain Jashanmal, general manager of Jashanmal Bookstores says, “If you look at how luxury has been successful online elsewhere in the world, the ready-to-wear stuff has been difficult unless there is huge price event, like an online shopping club. In the States, you’ve got Gilt Groupe, and here you have got Sukar.com. They’ve done very well. But then again, it is a lot about facilitating private sales, rather than pure e-commerce.”
While accessories sell better than garments online, it takes a big price discount to push clothes shoppers over the hurdle presented by the variability of sizing and style.
Sukar.com is an “invitation-only” online shopping club that offers members a chance to buy fashion brands online. It was formed by the Jabbar Internet Group, which owns a number of e-commerce websites in the region including Souq.com, CashU, Tahadi, Ikoo and Cobone.
Sukar hosts two- to three-day online sales events where members can get discounts of up to 90 percent on top brands in fashion and lifestyle products, says Saygin Yalcin, Sukar’s CEO. New members are invited to join by existing ones or advertising partners*. Some of the brands on sale include D&G, Ferrari, Georgio Armani and Gucci.
The short duration of the sales allows Sukar to shift a high volume of discounted stock in a short timeframe.
And online sales don’t take customers out of stores, says Yalkin. “We have seen that people do not replace their shopping behavior by shopping at shopping clubs,” he says. “On the contrary, we have seen that brands featured on shopping clubs have enjoyed an increase of up to 15 percent offline.”
Yalcin says the Sukar model works because members can purchase top brands at large discounts, and brands feel comfortable offering the discounts because of the exclusivity of the club’s invitation-only policy. “We can sell their stock to an exclusive, controlled circle of friends. That is very important, especially if you are dealing with top brands. They value that you do not put their stock somewhere in an outlet so everyone sees it with big signs saying ‘70 to 90 percent off,’” he says. “They don’t want that.”
When it comes to moving sales online, “We can definitely say that luxury and the affluent world has been very much slower than the contemporary and mass-market brands,” adds Yalcin.
At the moment, Sukar is one of the few websites in the region selling fashion brands online. However, more are bound to follow. The company behind local retail website Nahel.com is preparing to launch VanityIs.com, where consumers can buy apparel, handbags, perfumes, shoes and accessories. (Nahel declined to elaborate on the project at this stage.)
Retailers are still trying on different styles of site, to see what will suit them and the region. Online shopping might mean risking the wrong size from time to time, but that squeeze could be worth the risk if it lets consumers stretch their budgets enough.
*First published in Communicate